Slow motion

At times when I am very busy, when the tendency is to become unsettled, upset, panicked, I employ a coping mechanism that works for me. I think the idea actually came from the opening of the old TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man. Whichever show it was showed someone running very fast, but in slow motion. He’s making all of the rapid moves, but slowly.

I picture that slow running man when I am in situations that require a lot of thinking and a high level of activity. I picture myself slowing down, taking things much more slowly than usual. The background music becomes slower, softer, more gentle. So do the thoughts swirling around in my head. By slowing down, I avoid all of the hazards of haste- the frenzied movements, things being misplaced, bumping into things, feeling stressed.

I have my list. I do things one at a time. And I take my time.

Hanging out with my buddies


(and I stay less focused)

If you really loved me…

I have been a family therapist for a very long time. I should have figured it out sooner, but only yesterday I realized that I had been missing something very important when thinking about certain types of cases.

From time to time I would have cases where one family member would say about another “if s/he really loved me s/he would…”

Tests of loyalty, to me, seem so beside the point. In fact, they seem foolish. Why would we expect someone to “prove” they love us by performing a specific task or acting in a manner we prescribe?  The people we love are separate from us. They have their own loves and hates, likes and dislikes, ways of expressing themselves. They show us love in their own way.

However, in this type of a relationship, they may show warmth and consideration, but heaven forbid, if they fail the litmus test the other has created, the whole relationship is at risk.

Sometimes, couples, in order to feel more appreciated and loved,  have to adjust the ways in which they show love. She would like flowers. He shows love by filling up the car. He would like homemade soup. She lights romantic candles. They clearly love each other, but by asking for the show of love to be more in line with their own concept of love, both members could feel more valued and cared for.

,

But that is different than a test of love.

Tests of love usually involve one person expecting the other to know what s/he wants and to do it, despite any obstacles. And then, if it doesn’t happen, well, then “s/he doesn’t really love me.”

But let’s look a little closer…

Who is making the relationship contingent on specific behaviors. It’s not the “uncaring” husband or wife or friend or relative. It’s the person who has decided that the relationship consists of a series of tests all of which must be passed for it to continue to be loving.

Who has the problem?

As a therapist, it seems to me that the person who is making the statement “If you really loved me…” is in fact the person with the problem. S/he has not learned the nature of relationships. Relationships are formed between two individuals, both of whom have wants, needs, and limitations.  Appreciating the other person as a distinct individual is the only way to have a truly satisfying relationship.

When ultimatums exist in relationships, it is not the person who fails to meet them who is the problem.

Fairy godmothers

OK, I’m not really talking about fairy godmothers, but I thought it might be a topic that people were curious about.

Well, actually, yes, I am talking about fairy godmothers, but not in the fictional sense.

There is a concept without a name (at least one that I am familiar with) that I would like to explore. If it’s been written about before, I would love to hear about it, so please let me know.

Having grown up in a home that wasn’t the most nurturing, I had to find validation other places. Here’s where I found it: there were teachers who smiled at me, there were my aunts who made me feel loved, and there were my grandmothers. All of these people were, to some extent, fairy godmothers. They were around sometimes and it was often merely their presence in my mind that formed for me a safety net in the world. As long as they were around, even if only in recent memory, I felt loved and supported. As a group, it felt as if I was encircled by them and protected.

As the years went by and I learned how to appreciate my own value and accomplishments, I didn’t need fairy godmothers so much. But still there were my parents there in the background, out of sight, but still potential supports. After the death of my father, I substituted my uncles in his role of standing behind me, supporting me.

Somewhere in my 30s or 40s, I began to realize that I took the place of fairy godmother for some Lamaze students I taught and some clients I worked with as a therapist. They carried me in their pocket or their mind or their heart, to take out when they needed reinforcement and stability and, I guess, love. I only knew, because they told me.

As time goes on, I realize the world is full of fairy godmothers. They are the people who are in our lives who just by their being there, even when they are far away, give us affirmation and strength. As we get older, often they are mentors, peers, and nowadays, facebook friends– people whose presence enriches our lives.

Often, our fairy godmothers don’t know the function they have in our lives. Often, we don’t realize it until they are no longer around.

So today, look around at your fairy godmothers. Figure out who they are. And appreciate how they have made your life better, just by being there.

And then, think about whose fairy godmother you are, because whether you know it or not, someone who is not in your family– who you may see only occasionally, someone’s life is better just because you are in it.

Ooof!

One of the things that people learn when they move to a new country with a new language is that exclamations differ from those they were raised with. In English, pain evokes an “ouch!” In Hebrew, it’s “Ay-ah!” Frustration in Hebrew evokes an “Ooof!” I’ll admit it; I forgot the English.

So why am I frustrated? It actually has to do with the fact that there is so much right with my life these days. I am feeling healthy, have kept off the weight I lost, and have no problem maintaining a healthy diet. We recently witnessed the graduation from high school of our oldest granddaughter and the awarding of a PhD to our son-in-law. My husband and I had a great honeymoon getaway for our 45th anniversary, and our children invited us to a wonderful dinner celebration in its honor, bringing along a nice sampling of well-behaved gorgeous grandchildren. We are in a state of high preparation for the tour we are leading to Vietnam and Cambodia and are looking forward to a week of fun in Thailand on our way back. In the fall, after the holidays, we’ll be taking a trip to the US and when we get back, I’ll be teaching marriage and family therapy once again. And then, best of all, we prepare for my sister’s aliya!

The blessing of a beautiful garden in Israel, filled with gorgeous plants and fruit trees brings with it the worry of the health of our gorgeous plum tree that has been attacked by some type of a worm. The blessing of a great apartment that we are renting out brings with it the work of cleaning it thoroughly between occupants. The blessing of being close to our children brings day to day discussions and concerns about the types of issues that remote grandparents never hear of.

So why am I frustrated?

I guess it’s because I wish I could split myself in two or three or four in order to give adequate time and attention to all of the wonderful people and things in my life.

I worry about letting people down.

Ooof!

Click on pictures for full images!

And so on…

I have been asked to continue writing about getting older. As I said, it’s not a subject that brings great joy, although I do remember asking my father how was it for him to grow older and he said, “It beats the alternative.”

So here goes…

In our teens, the world is all in front of us. Life seemingly will go on forever. We think about what we will do in the future. It’s all about getting more educated, more intelligent, more savvy, more involved, and taking on more and more responsibility.

When we are young adults, we begin to move toward our goals as best we can. There may be bumps in the road, but we have time.

Those of us who marry and have children spend the next years so involved in day to day life that at some point as the children reach adolescence, we think, “When did the time pass?” Suddenly, we are the older generation.

The children grow up and get married and that is good. And then, babies appear. Oh, they are so cute and lovable and sweet. And then we realize, we are grandparents. How did that happen?

But we are still young and active, or so we feel. As much as we look forward to retirement, the 50s and early 60s have us working at the top of our game.

And then, while we are still feeling like we’re in our 30s or 40s, that ugly number 65 appears.

And suddenly we realize that in the best of cases, we have more to look back on than to look forward to. In front of us is decline.

So we again focus on each day. We set up events to look forward to. We go out to eat. We meet friends. We travel to faraway places. We live each day fully.

But the world looks different.

The small concerns about falling or about having a strange lump or bump or reaction to an insect bite suddenly appear to be a threat that finally something is going to get you… because like it or not, at some age, you begin to realize you won’t live forever and then any threat to one’s health becomes a reason for concern. Maybe this is the thing that’s going to get me.

Of course I need to admit that when I was about 33, I had a lump on my arm, just below my elbow. For weeks, or maybe months, I was afraid to go to the doctor to ask what it was. I began having dreams about swimming around in circles with my one arm (they’d apparently amputated the other) and decided that it was time to see the doctor. I don’t even remember what he said, but it was truly nothing and I can still swim straight. But I do tend to envision the worst possible outcome when something is wrong and when I don’t, I tell myself that I am in denial… And, I think it gets worse the older I get.

Let’s hope I have another 40 years or so to worry….

I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about

When we lived in Germany, we watched the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and TV Services) network which broadcast US TV shows and had no commercial content. They did, however, screen all sorts of public service announcements, and among them was a series of ads about prejudice. In them they asked children questions about prejudice. In one, they asked a little girl what she thinks of prejudice and she answered, “I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about.”

That line has stuck with me all this time and seems particularly apt for this blog post.

I was talking to one of my daughters about thoughts I have been having lately about getting older and what that means to me, how it changes how I view the world. I told her that no one ever writes about this because it’s too depressing. She said to me that she noticed that no one ever writes about menopause because that too remains a subject that women don’t want to talk about.

So here it is.

Menopause seems like a walk in the park compared to issues of growing older, so I will tackle that one first.

The information I had when I was in my late 30s was limited and frankly frightening. There was a long list of symptoms that one may have including heavy bleeding, night sweats, depression, rage– all sorts of mood issues and possible vulnerability to psychosis. From my point of view, it seemed a lot like a mini-death. After all, it seemed as if everything was going to go haywire.

Now I have never done a survey and since most women don’t talk about their experience, I cannot tell you what other people report, but for me, aside from a couple of years of heavy and unpredictable periods (which by the way, could have been made much less unpleasant had there been yoatzot at that time who could have told me that much of what I was concerned about was not relevant) and hot flashes, I had no symptoms.

The heavy bleeding was not fun. Once when I was giving a workshop on “The Uses of Humor and Metaphor in Therapy” in San Antonio, I was forced to sit behind a desk rather than stand while speaking as a veritable tidal wave hit. Experiences at work when I bled through onto my chair were less than pleasant. Finally, the doctor insisted on an endometrial biopsy which was a real experience. I was lying in that most unflattering position on his examination table as he stuck what felt like a hot poker into my uterus. It was so hot and shocking that I all of a sudden started to panic. I was blind!! I couldn’t see anything. And then I realized that my eyes were closed. When I opened them my vision returned. It turned out the pain was only momentary. When later he gave me pills to induce what he called “a chemical D&C” he told me to be prepared for a flood. In fact, that was not an understatement. The one good thing that came out of it (yes, indeed, something good resulted) was that at the time I was working full time and also trying to rewrite my dissertation, adding charts and case material that didn’t appear in what had been my final draft. I had to remain 5 steps from the bathroom for 3 days and I was able to stay home and finish my dissertation. After that there was still heavy bleeding from time to time, but I wasn’t worried about it enough to go through all of that again. And then, finally, the bleeding stopped and never returned. I don’t miss it.

Oh, the hot flashes. Well, they bothered me a lot less once I thought of them as power surges and I began to find them mildly amusing. All of a sudden I was like one of those space heaters who sit there innocently quiet and sedate until suddenly the coils turn bright orange and everyone nearby begins to feel flushed. Except, this time, it was only I who was feeling flushed. And just as there is no control over when that coil becomes orange, there is no control over when the surges come. Sometimes it was several times an hour, sometimes, only a few times a day. Over the years, they are farther and farther apart.

Of course it did make for some interesting experiences like when I would be teaching and would say to the room full of Orthodox women studying family therapy, “Is it hot in the room, or is it me?” Most of the time, it was me.

But even more interesting was when I taught a group of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox men, most of whom were rabbis, family therapy. Since they take only single gender classes, they usually have male instructors, but because of my qualifications, a special exception was made for me to teach them. Now informality between men and women is not something one is likely to find when you have a group of dark-suited, bearded, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, so there were situations that were unusual. As we would sit behind the two way mirror and watch one of the men work with clients, we were sitting in the dark, a bunch of men and I, most likely making them far more uncomfortable than it was making me. When issues related to counseling women came up, I was able to teach them a lot about women that they had never known. Unfortunately, strict gender separation leaves men pretty clueless about women.

So, when I asked them one day, “Is it warm in here or am I having a hot flash?” I was pleased to note that none of them fainted and happy that I had added to their store of knowledge about women. I guess I got a bit of a kick out of the looks of shock on their faces.

In short, my experience with menopause was not nearly as bad as I had feared. I lived through it and life on the other side is pretty terrific. I would love to hear other women’s experiences.

…but do they know we love them?

Sometimes when I write, it’s only when I see people’s reactions that I realize what I’ve said. The responses to my last post were all different and reflected what they meant to the people who read the piece.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how it is that we convey what we feel to those we love. Of course kind words, gentle touch, and thoughtful deeds, help, support, and caring all are important, but why is it that sometimes it doesn’t seem as if the message gets through.

“If he really loved me, he’d say he loves me,” the young wife said to me in my office one day.
“Do you love her?” I asked him.
“Of course I do,” he answered.
“Can you tell her?” I asked.
“I love you,” he said.
“He only said that because you told him to,” she said.

Is there anything he can do to get the message across? If she says that his washing the dishes would show he loves her and he washes the dishes, will she say, “but he’s only doing that because you told him to.”

So I leave the question open. How do we let those we love know that we love them in a way that they will understand? How can we do what they want us to do to prove it without their devaluing the effort?

Is knowing that you are loved something that only happens when you have been loved and cherished as an infant? Is that necessary? Is it sufficient? For others does it take lots of years and shared experiences?

Examining our tortoise pictures in the Galapagos

What are your thoughts?

…but do they know?

Yesterday I was talking to someone who is visiting Israel on one of those programs that exist for young people. When I asked if she would be coming back to stay, she said to me, “My parents miss me.”

Ah, how tender! Her parents miss her. I am sure they do. She is a delightful person. But more important than the fact that they miss her is the fact that she knows it.

I was immediately struck by the realization that I never could have made that statement. Did my parents miss me when I was gone? Sometimes I think the happiest moments of their lives were when they were dropping me off at camp or at some weekend experience. When I returned, there was never the feeling that I had been missed. In fact, it seemed like my re-entry constituted a sort of intrusion.

Did my parents love me? I’m betting they did. My mother in her own hung-up way probably did love me. My father in his very quiet, very gentle way, I am sure loved me. But did I know it? Did I feel it?

I think about my own children. I wonder if they felt that kind of love. I wonder if they knew that I missed them when they were gone. I wonder if my oldest son knows that I cried half the night when we left him in Atlanta to attend school there. I wonder if he knew the joy I felt when he came home for weekends. I wonder if my daughter realized that the day I went to pick her up in Oklahoma City 100 miles away, when I brought her back for a surprise visit to the States, I sobbed most of the way to the airport and practically jumped out of my skin when the plane was late. I wonder about my other children too, whether they know how many times I have spent days and nights worrying about their safety as they traveled to strange places, as they served in the Army and reserves, as they traveled on dark roads past Arab villages. I wonder if they know how much I love them.

Parents’ love is strong and fierce, but sometimes our gentle, laid-back manner belies the passion we feel for the safety, well-being, and happiness of our children. How can we let them know?

It seems that some parents know how to do it. I’d like the recipe, please.

Don’t do it!

Today I was waiting for my husband and I was sitting across the room from two young people. I am guessing that they were about 15 years old. They were a boy and a girl. I watched as the girl kept leaning forward, placing her face under his face. She would move closer and then closer yet. She kissed him and moved back and then moved forward again, placing her face under his once again. At one point he stood up and moved to a position farther from where she was sitting. He sat down and in no time, there she was, moving in on him- once again touching him and placing herself very close to his face.

And all I could think was, “Don’t do it!” I wanted to tell her that she is a lovely looking girl. She has so much that she can accomplish in her life. But the message that she was giving to this boy and the world in general is that she is so hungry for affirmation from a boy that she has no problem with practically assaulting him in public.

I felt so very sad for her. I thought about what her future might be like. At this rate, she could be pregnant by 16 and opportunities for her own development as a person will be limited. Poverty may follow. And what does she have to give to the next generation?

And coincidentally it is international women’s day. What message do we really need to give to young women?

We need to teach our daughters and granddaughters that it’s a big world full of wonderful opportunities. The time for romance and marriage and children comes later, but first they need to devote themselves to developing as people. They need to discover their interests and expand their capabilities. They need to learn what their particular talents are and then to nourish them and enjoy them. They need to learn about how to have healthy relationships, based on shared values and not just perceptions of “coolness” or appreciation of someone’s looks. Friendships between boys and girls, in my book, are just fine. But things need to be kept light and friendly. They don’t need to rush. They are going to be adults hopefully for a long, long time.

What if?

What if the way you acted toward other human beings really mattered. I mean, what if it mattered in that how they thought of you had a direct influence on your health and longevity?

What if when you went to the supermarket and waited in line, you were patient with person ahead of you who was fumbling with his groceries and when he left, you smiled and said goodbye and you greeted the cashier with a smile and pleasant small talk? What if their kind thoughts about you made you healthier? What if they made you feel better?

What if when you were shopping in the mall someone was standing in front of you in the way, you gently asked to pass and when you saw a little child in a stroller you smiled? What if when your old acquaintance spoke to you in excruciating detail about her medical condition you listened? What if the way they felt about you changed your life?

What if you were undercharged at a store and you pointed it out and gave the money back to the cashier, and she was incredulous? What if how she felt about what you did increased your feeling of well-being?

What if the things you do just because you are being the person you want to be– embodying the values you hold ended up making you a healthier and happier person?

Here’s a secret: I think they do.